Verizon Accused of Refusing to Fix Broken Landline Phone Service

Photo: Matt Reinbold
Photo: Matt Reinbold

Verizon has been accused of refusing to fix landline phone service in order to force customers onto Internet packages with voice service that may falter during power outages. The group accused Verizon of "deliberately neglecting the repair and maintenance of its copper network with the explicit goal of migrating basic telephone service customers who experience service problems."

Verizon spokesperson Jarryd Gonzales told Ars that these claims are "blatantly false."

"We have identified certain customers in fiber network areas who have had recurring repair issues over their copper-based service recently or clusters of customers in areas where we have had recurring copper-based infrastructure issues," Gonzales wrote in an e-mail. "Moving them to our all-fiber network will improve the reliability of their service. When these customers contact us with a repair request, we suggest fiber as a repair option. If the customer agrees, we move their service from our copper to our all-fiber network. There is no charge for this work, and customers will pay the same rate for their service. Most customers recognize and appreciate the increased reliability of fiber and gladly agree to the move to fiber. Few customers across our service area have chosen to stay with copper, and, once on fiber, few ask to return to copper... Nobody is forced to take our services, nor are customers given new services without consent or knowledge."

Customers who don't want fiber "can remain on copper and we'll fix their service issues," Verizon said. If customers move to fiber and then decide they want to return to copper, "we will return their service to copper."

Residents opposed to giving up copper-based landline service—plus a Verizon employee—spoke out at a public hearing Tuesday in front of the California Senate's Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee. They said Verizon is making wireless service—not fiber—the only option for some customers.

Martina Ortega, who identified herself as a worker in Verizon's language assistance copper repair center, said, "I have been trying to help a customer who has been out of service since January." Ortega said she contacted a supervisor who "told me it would be too expensive to repair and that the customer's only option would be Voice Link," a wireless Internet service. "To this date the customer has been out of service."

Ortega said company rules prevented her from informing the customer about the option to complain to the Public Utilities Commission. Ortega said whistleblower protections are important, as she is aware of Verizon's plan to force customers to migrate to services they do not want.

A man who identified himself as a San Jose resident said, "Voice Link is a very shoddy, grossly inferior phone service that Verizon is trying to force onto its phone customers... Voice Link is about as useful as talking with a can and string."

Verizon may not have actually deployed Voice Link to anyone in California just yet. "Verizon’s migration program has been expanded nationally to involve migration of copper landline phone customers to a fixed wireless service called Voice Link in areas where FiOS has not been deployed," TURN said in its complaint. "It is not clear when Voice Link will be offered in California. But the CPUC must be vigilant and ensure that the problems identified in customer complaints about Verizon’s forced migration practices do not make a repeat appearance when Voice Link arrives." The Communications Workers of America union has been warning that Verizon's Voice Link is heading to California since at least July.

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